National Signing Day 2018 was less chaotic and noisy thanks to the Early Signing Period

No animals were harmed in the making of college football's latest recruiting cycle.

That's another way of saying the addition of an Early Signing Day -- in some small way -- achieved the intended result. It turned down the volume on a process that had gotten a bit out of control.

You remember the outlandishness of the past. Seven years ago, Georgia commit Isaiah Crowell pulled a bulldog puppy out from underneath the table to announce he was joining the Bulldogs.

They called it a mini-Uga. It was a max disgrace for what recruiting had become -- an annual sideshow of teenage excess.  

The first go-round with two signing days concluded Wednesday with a sense of calm.

"Kids just get so caught up in all that and then you go to college and you're nobody. Nobody even cares," Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver said.

Two years ago, Oliver was in that hype salad -- a can't miss, top-five national prospect. Since then, he hasn't missed. Oliver diligently kept his head down, registered 39.5 tackles for loss in two seasons and won the 2017 Outland Trophy.

The rising junior should realistically start the season as a defensive Heisman Trophy candidate. The only five-star ever to commit to a Group of Five school now qualifies as somewhat of a sage at age 20.

"I was nobody when I came here," Oliver said this week from the Cougars' football facility. "You go to [Texas] A&M or Clemson, you're definitely going to be nobody. Nobody cares about rankings, five-star, or 'I had this many offers.'

"Now you got zero [stars]. You're in college. You might as well just come on and go to work."

Oliver wasn't taking a shot at the Aggies or Tigers. He was merely putting into context the fact that those football factories are bigger than any single player. And those programs are not alone.  

Georgia may have finished with the No. 1 recruiting class and Alabama slipped to (gasp!) No. 6, but the same rules apply for every one of the signees.

If the average coach eventually gets starters out of half of his signing class, that's a massive success. It's just as likely guys will flame out, get injured, quit the game, transfer or get kicked off the team.

"Once they have you and you don't produce? I guarantee you, they're going to out-recruit you," Oliver said.

To be more precise, in the industry it's called "recruiting over you." And no one is safe. Urban Meyer once told me the hardest thing to do in recruiting is getting straight the minds of prospects he has just spent years telling they were the best thing in the world.

Entitlement can be a witch.

"It ain't that hard [to get signees attention]," Jimbo Fisher told me this week. "They get it. They know they have fun. They know we have great players here. You set the tone.

"I want you to go win you a job, but you've got to do it within the framework. You set the context. There's no craziness in that regard."

That's part of what the Early Signing Period was supposed to accomplish: eyes on the prize, and all that. We've entered an age where athlete welfare is at least being contemplated by the adults who squeeze every last ounce of production out of players' bodies.

Yes, yes, I know the players get a free scholarship. But, for starters, that scholarship indentures them to their original school. That's what the current transfer debate is about.

Someone had the brilliant idea of having these athletes actually enjoying their experience. The Early Signing Period contributed in some small way. The majority of programs signed more or less 75 percent of their classes in December. That made for much less drama on Wednesday.

"Go ahead and get it out of the way," Oliver said. "You still have the guys who still haven't signed yet who are still Hollywood. It's just a whole bunch of B.S. … If I didn't commit until the end, I probably could have been the No. 1 recruit.

"Everybody wants to be Mr. Hollywood. Pick a school and go and enjoy your time there. I guarantee you the coaches don't care."

Whether the Early Signing Period continues is unknown. Right now, it is more or less a pilot program. Commissioners have pledged to revisit the issue in a couple of years.

While the likes of Nick Saban were able to commandeer the conversation with their dislike of the Early Signing Period, it mostly worked. Prospects did have more time to decide. The whole thing seemed more relaxed.

The recruits who wanted to get the process out of the way, did. Those who wanted to draw it out, well, I still don't understand recruiting hype videos. Especially this one: 

Texas A&M safety Leon O'Neal Jr. was either auditioning for NCIS or hinting strongly he had intimate knowledge of how to jack a car.  

One Mountain West coach told me the Early Signing Period "helped a bunch." Last year his program lost four prospects to Pac-12 schools in the final week before signing day. This year: None.

"It ended up being a positive thing for us," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder told reporters.

K-State only had to sign the final five prospects in its 24-man class on Wednesday. Snyder is among a large group of coaches who were able to concentrate on 2019 in that pregnant pause between Dec. 20 and Feb. 7.

"It allowed us to have a little more attention to [future] recruiting. [But] I am probably not in favor of it," he said of the Early Signing Period. Right now, I liked it better the way it was."

What happened to that "positive thing?" Snyder doesn't like evaluating players until they are seniors. That would put him in the minority in an age when coaches are offering grade schoolers and most premium quarterbacks are committed by their junior year.

The majority of nation's coaches came out of a summit meeting of sorts in January 2017. There, in Nashville at the American Football Coaches Association convention, they pledged their support to an early period.

Now, all you hear is why it can't work. The SEC voted for the measure despite continually criticizing it.

"I understand the reasons people supported early signing," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said at the College Football Playoff in January. "I understand the perspective on the benefits. I'm not sure the tradeoffs justify what we've done."

Coaches, in general, don't want more recruiting work, but who cares? This is a system that has given us $2 million-a-year coordinators without much justification. Head coaching salaries long broke through the stratosphere.

It begins to ring hollow, then, when a December signing day interferes with the few states that have state high school playoffs that run that deep into the season.

"It's unfair for us to ask [players] to go through that," Fisher said.

It's also unfair -- to some -- for the Big Ten in infringe on the sanctity of Friday night football by scheduling games on that night. So let's not take a running charge at the NCAA as a monolith.

Sometimes reform hurts.   

It's also unfair to keep harassing a recruit all throughout January. Sure, the kids' sense of entitlement and video production contribute to that excess. But with some notable exceptions, the recruiting process maintained a sense of decorum this time around.

And to the best of anyone's knowledge, wildlife was spared.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories